New Zealand Newspaper Apologizes After 'Insensitive' Cartoon About Deadly Measles Epidemic In Samoa Is Met With Backlash

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The nation of Samoa is experiencing a massive epidemic. Thousands of its populace have contracted the measles, with dozens dying from the disease since the outbreak began in October.

Amid this crisis and tragedy, a New Zealand newspaper thought it would be okay to make light of the situation with a cartoon.

The internet disagreed.

In the cartoon published by the Otago Daily Times, two women are seen leaving a travel agency. One explains she asked what the "least popular spots" would be.

The agent had responded,

"The ones people are picking up in Samoa."

Just as a reminder, this joke is poking fun at an epidemic that has taken the lives of over 50 people, most of whom are children.

Readers were not amused.

The backlash against the Times was swift and harsh. Many called out the cartoonist, Garrick Tremain for his history of offensive cartoons.

ODT, for their part apologized for printing it, saying "The content and the timing of the cartoon were insensitive..."

Protesters didn't feel this apology went far enough. More than 40 people gathered outside the doors of the Otago Daily Times, calling for Tremain to be fired.

Sina Brown-Davis, a protest leader said,

"This cartoonist has a long history of racist tropes which denigrate not only Samoan people, but Maori people as well. He's made a career of it."

She also called the apology "half baked."

Since then, the Times has promised they are revising their review standards and will not be running anything by Tremain until they have an improved selection process.

For some people, this was too little too late.

@dritchie / Twitter

Nearly 4000 people have been diagnosed with measles in Samoa, with 53 deaths caused by the disease since the outbreak began. 48 of those are children under the age of five.

The island nation has been the target of an anti-vaccine campaign that gained steam in 2018 due to the deaths of two children. They were given a wrongly mixed vaccine, one that was mixed with an expired muscle relaxant instead of water.

After this, infant vaccination rates dropped to only 31 percent.

Worldwide cases of measles tripled in the first three months of 2019. Places where the disease was nearly eradicated have seen a resurgence in reported cases.

The measles is more than just a fever and rash. The disease is very dangerous for the young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

Because of this, it's important everyone who can gets vaccinated. Though, convincing people might be difficult with the disinformation campaign that has found new strength online.

The Samoan government has declared a state of emergency and shut down non-essential processes while they try to vaccinate their country. All focus on government resources is going into vaccinations.

They have been able to get to more than a quarter of their population, but it's still a long road to the 90% vaccination rate that will protect their populace. New Zealand's foreign affairs minister has promised to assist with nurses and medical teams.

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